Harford residents attend meeting on tainted water

Petition urges Army to remove chemical

October 23, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Scores of concerned Harford County residents attended a community meeting last night at the Aberdeen fire hall to learn about a hazardous chemical tainting their drinking water, and some signed a petition urging the Army to remove the harmful substance.

About 100 residents came from as far as Bel Air to better understand the health effects and extent of contamination caused by perchlorate, a chemical used in items such as grenades and flares. The Army acknowledges that training exercises at Aberdeen Proving Ground near Aberdeen's well field caused the contamination of ground water and soil. The chemical was discovered in APG's western boundary in March last year.

Thomas Voltaggio, a top regional Environmental Protection Agency official, assured residents that their drinking water is safe. Aberdeen resident Ken Turner said he had his doubts.

"I don't like the EPA saying they have all the answers when they don't," Turner said, noting that no safe standard for perchlorate in drinking water exists, and that research on the subject is incomplete.

Members of the Aberdeen Proving Ground Superfund Citizens Coalition said they called the meeting to raise residents' awareness of a problem that the coalition has been pointing to for two years.

The city has controlled the levels of the chemical in tap water by mixing water from different wells. Those levels have not exceeded a standard of 1 part per billion in drinking water, which was established by the state as an interim measure until the federal government offers a national standard.

Perchlorate is known to disrupt thyroid function and is suspected of contributing to developmental problems in fetuses, infants and young children.

The accelerant is an unregulated pollutant, and the Army has said it will not pursue cleanup efforts until the EPA sets a national standard.

During the 90-minute meeting, residents learned that store-bought water filters cannot remove perchlorate from their water and were told by the community group that no adverse impact on property value was expected because of the contamination.

Voltaggio said outside the meeting that the EPA is negotiating with the Army on an APG cleanup, while the contamination has not reached a critical level.

"We're not any farther along now than we were last summer," he said. "We feel we have the time to try to work out all the paths with [the Department of Defense] because no one is being affected by the water -- and that's the key."

The citizens group has asked the Army to put ion-exchange filters on Aberdeen's most-polluted wells, one of the few proven methods for removing perchlorate from water. It has received no response from APG officials.

The group would also like to see the city and Army base return to weekly testing of the water. The weekly tests were dropped a few months ago in favor of monthly testing.

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